Even though we live on the Canadian prairies, these days, far fewer families actually make a living farming. The latest stats provided by this Alberta Agriculture Report in 2006 state that there were 49,431 farms in Alberta. A decline of 7.9 percent from their previous survey in 2001. What’s interesting is the total area of farmed land actually increased. This means there are fewer people farming in Alberta, but those who do, manage larger enterprises to make a living at it.
At the turn of the 20th century, My Great Grandpa Nic brought his young family to Canada on a hope and a prayer. He was already in his 40’s, in a new country and didn’t even speak english. Like all who were immigrating at the time, he brought only a strong desire to be free and own land. I can’t imagine all that manual labour in my 40’s. Here’s the only picture I have of Great Grandpa Nic. Looks like he was plumb worn down, poor guy.
His ‘Application For Homestead’ in 1902 states that he had 1 pig, 4 cattle and a well and that they broke 1 acre and cropped 1 acre. All by hand I’m certain. Even when his son, my grandpa John, was farming in the 1920’s and 1930’s, much of the farming was still done by horse power alone.
Farming operations changed slowly over the years and by the time my dad was growing up on the farm, grandpa John had both horses and a gas-powered tractor. You knew your neighbours and people pitched in to help each other. I wonder if communities have that opportunity now with farms being so big?
I think I tend to have this romantic notion of life on the farm. There were cute hand sewn dresses hanging on the laundry line, fresh baking in the oven of a wood stove, cats and chickens everywhere.
In reality, many families barely got by. Their wallets were as thin as the well-worn boots on their feet. Luckily, human nature tends to remember the best part of life’s experiences. My dads face would light up talking about growing up on the farm. He told me how my grandma would plant lot’s of flowers all around their house. With no plan, she’d open penny seed packs, mix them with sand in a bowl and just scatter them around the house. Can you imagine a more carefree method? She had no time to nurture her love of flowers, maybe it was laundry day, baking day or rock picking day. The list of chores was long. Seems life on the farm wasn’t romantic after all, it only sounds romantic in stories.